REVIEW: BLACK PANTHER (2018)

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BLACK PANTHER (2018)

Black Panther is the latest edition to the MCU and once again Marvel comes up with a way to keep this series fresh after ten years and eighteen films. The movie opens with a brief introduction to the history of the fictional African nation of Wakanda. It tells of the fateful meteorite landing which introduced the miracle metal vibranium to the land, which transformed Wakanda into a technically advanced civilization. They’ve long kept hidden their technology from the world, though, to prevent ill use of their weaponry. Enter the newly crowned King T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), who is also The Black Panther, Wakanda’s protector as well as ruler. While still mourning the death of his father, T’Challa finds out a hard truth about the death of his uncle and of a cousin he didn’t know he had…a cousin known as the mercenary Killmonger (Michael B. Jordan), who wants to take the throne and use Wakanda’s arms technology to start a global revolution.

This sometimes stunning film is directed by Ryan Coogler from a script by he and Joe Robert Cole. Coogler has a wonderfully sumptuous visual eye and making full use of African cultural influence turns this into a film worth seeing for the sights alone. His script with Cole takes things deeper than that with a story rich in depth, not only in it’s cultural surroundings but in the political, racial and social issues effecting it’s African characters and the continent’s descendants around the world. It weaves this context into it’s action/adventure story-line very well, so it’s never preaching, but the issues are boldly there. It represents those who have a more aggressive way of dealing with these issues in it’s antagonist N’Jadaka / Killmonger and those who see a more peaceful solution in it’s hero T’Challa. It also doesn’t shy away from the fact that these differences can pit brother against brother, too. Black Panther is still also very much a superhero movie and we gets some spectacular action, some amazing gadgets and even a James Bond-ish trip to South Korea, where T’Challa meets old friend Everett Ross (Martin Freeman) and old foe Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who is aligned with Killmonger. Panther is given some wonderful support in his sister Suri (Letitia Wright) who is technology savvy and is the “Q” to T’Challa’s Bond. There is king’s bodyguard Okoye (Danai Gurira) who is Wakanda’s greatest warrior, elder Zuri (Forest Whitaker) and his proud and strong mother Ramonda (Angela Bassett). The SPFX are amazing, there is a wonderfully African infused soundtrack by Ludwig Göransson and some beautifully realized dream sequences that add even more depth to a film that has spirit and heart as well as action.

Simply put this movie also has a great cast. Boseman is a perfect fit for a character that has to be ruler, hero and diplomat, as well as, simply a man. He is charming, handsome and gives the heavily burdened T’Challa a sense of humor and warmth as well. Michael B. Jordan is solid as his vengeful cousin known as Killmonger. Jordan is usually in the role of hero or nice guy and here he shows he can be a bad-ass too. N’Jadaka is a street smart killer raised in America and he brings that urban edge to his warrior with a mission. His purpose may have a bit of a noble center, but it’s his methods and ruthless execution of them are what make him a villain. Serkis is fun as Klaue, following-up his amusing part in Age of Ultron and it’s too bad his part here is almost as small. He’s a fun and eccentric bad guy. Letitia Wright is cute and energetic as T’Challa’s genius sister Suri and Danai Gurira is a blast as warrior woman, Okoye. She’s a powerhouse and deserves her own movie. Rounding out are strong characterizations from Freeman as Ross, Angela Bassett as Ramonda and Forest Whitaker as the noble Zuri. There is also a cool post credits cameo I won’t spoil.

Once again Marvel has delivered a splendid entertainment that is at once a story with it’s own heart, soul and purpose and yet fits well into the MCU game plan. There are political and racial issues weaved into T’Challa’s first solo flick and it is as energetic and exciting as it is thought provoking. Ryan Coogler is a director who has not only a brilliant visual style, but can make popcorn entertainment that is also food for thought. A delightfully entertaining movie with some well appreciated heart and depth. As always, stay through the entire credits for two extra scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) black panthers.

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014)

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THE TOWN THAT DREADED SUNDOWN (2014)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

The original The Town That Dreaded Sundown is based on a true series of murders that occurred in Texarkana, Arkansas in 1946 and were committed by a person known only as “The Phantom”… a man who was never caught. The 1976 film is considered a cult classic but, when I finally caught up with it, I wasn’t impressed with the pseudo-documentary flick. Now comes a new version which actually is a sequel of sorts that not only acknowledges the actual crimes but, the existence of the 1976 film, as well as, Texarkana’s morbid custom of screening Charles B. Pierce’s original film every Halloween… and it’s at one such screening in 2013 that the film begins…

The movie opens with pretty Jami Lerner (Addison Timlin, the scene stealing Stormy Llewellyn in Odd Thomas) and her date Corey (Spencer Treat Clark) leaving a Halloween drive-in screening of The Town That Dreaded Sundown as Jami is put-off by the film’s violence. The two retreat to a local make-out point but, much like the movie, a masked man appears and forces them out of the car, murdering Corey and letting Jami live as long as she “makes them remember Mary.” The traumatized girl makes her way back to the drive-in where the film is showing and soon the town is caught in a real grip of fear as the locals believe The Phantom has returned. Whether he is truly back or someone is imitating the killer from real life and the 1976 film, the result is the same, soon the bodies begin to gruesomely pile up. Worse for Jami, is that the killer has chosen her to be his messenger as he threatens to kill more unless she delivers his message of remembrance. But, Jami decides to fight fire with fire and begins to investigate the original case to try to find out who is the one actually stalking her and murdering innocent townsfolk and why. But, will she uncover the real killer or will he catch her first?

Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, this film takes the Blair Witch 2 concept of making a film about events inspired by the original film but, does it so much better. This is a stylish and sometimes strange… in a good way… flick that is basically a slasher that chillingly references real events and playfully references the original film, even cleverly having the director’s son Charles Pierce Jr. (Denis O’Hare) as a character. There are some brutal and disturbing sequences depicting the killer’s wrath and Gomez-Rejon gives us some nice suspense throughout, especially in the last act when Jami and the masked killer reunite. Not only does the director have a nice visual style to enhance his story and off-kilter storytelling but, gives the film a nice atmosphere of foreboding and bravely paces the film more moderately, much like the original film and the films of that era were paced. This is complemented by Michael Goi’s moody cinematography and Ludwig Göransson’s atmospheric score. The killings are also quite gruesome at times and have a lot of impact and the FX portraying them are well rendered and makes this overall a very effective slasher whether it be a remake/sequel or whatever you want to classify it.

The cast are all good with Timlin being a moody yet, resourceful heroine. She conveys the emotional trauma of a young woman who witnesses her date’s murder yet, the strength to fight back by investigating the very psychopath that may be waiting outside her door. A far different character than Odd ThomasStormy Llewellyn and proves this is a young actress to keep an eye on. Film vet Veronica Cartwright plays her grandmother who lived through the time of the original murders and gives us a woman who is pained to see her granddaughter living through similar events. Gary Cole is solid as the local sheriff, Anthony Anderson plays an updated Lone Wolf Morales echoing Ben Johnson’s character from ’76 and Travis Trope is charming as Nick, a young man who befriends Jami and helps her with her investigation. A solid cast who do good work in bringing this chiller to effective life.

Overall, I really liked this movie and was pleasantly surprised by it. It cleverly is both sequel and remake, yet, is also a film made outside the original so, it may deviously reference that film and use both the film and the actual crimes from 1946 as part of it’s story history. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon has a bit of a quirky and offbeat storytelling style that adds to the unsettling atmosphere of the film and gives us some nice suspense and some disturbing and brutal scenes of violence to punctuate it. All in all, a solid and somewhat off-beat horror/slasher that is one of the more interesting horror flicks I have seen this year. Sad, it’s gotten too little attention, especially coming from the horror factory that is Blumhouse. It deserves more.

Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) killers.

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